One of my favourite lines in one of my favourite movies comes from Tom Cruise as Vincent in the epic Michael Mann thriller Collateral (2004), when he says to Jamie Foxx’s Max: “Now we gotta make the best of it, improvise, adapt to the environment, Darwin, shit happens, I Ching, whatever man, we gotta roll with it.” It encapsulates Darwinian theory that it is not the fastest or strongest of any species that survives, but those most given to adapting to change. And it was under the auspices of this that the wristwatch as we know it was born.
Although some wristwatches had existed since the early-20th century, it quickly became apparent at the onset of the First World War that extracting a watch from one’s waistcoat, then cocking it towards one’s visage – in a gesture that drew tears of joy from flâneurs and boulevardiers – was impractical when people were shooting at you. Soldiers quickly adapted pocket watches to become wrist-borne instruments, indeed the very first of these were nothing more than modified pocket watches with lugs hastily soldered to them and fixed to pragmatic heavy pigskin straps. But once the war ended, the wristwatch was here to stay, transformed into a symbol of masculinity and becoming the indispensable tool to the global adventurer and demoiselle-romancing rake, for whom accurate plotting of one’s nocturnal movements was of utmost importance.
It was necessity again that brought about the next great evolutionary shift in wristwatches, in particular for a small Swiss brand situated in Schaffhausen that had forged a unique mixture between American industrial ingenuity and traditional Swiss craftsmanship. It was aptly named the International Watch Company. During the Second World War, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) felt that civilian watches were not adequate for military use. Rather than partnering with a specific brand, they invited any Swiss manufacturer who could build a watch to the requested standard, to do so and, all in, 12 companies were eventually accepted. Later to be known as the “Dirty Dozen”, the timepieces were designed with the objectives of durability and unparalleled visibility in the most challenging of circumstances. These watches were described by the MoD by the acronym W.W.W. standing for watch, wrist, waterproof.
Amongst those tapped was the International Watch Company whose MOD-issued watch fit the basic design iconography demanded by the British military. This included large index-shaped hands and high visibility indices that were all heavily painted with the luminous material radium. The dial itself was a masterpiece of utility-defined aesthetics with a big bold chemin de fer minute track, as well as seconds sub-dial imperiously occupying the lower half of the dial. Interestingly, this International Watch Company watch, today dubbed the “Mark X” in collector lore for its status as the genetic forebear to the even more famous Mark 11, was made distinct from the other Dirty Dozen watches thanks to a slightly larger seconds sub-dial that almost reached the centre pinion. The name of the company was shortened to IWC and placed inside a stylised oval design. It is fair to say that the Mark X, at least from a visual perspective set the stage for the military watch that IWC would become most synonymous with, the watch commissioned for British aviators: the legendary Mark 11.
On the Fly
Following the Second World War, it was clear that whoever dominated the skies would have a huge tactical advantage. During the war, the Royal Air Force – the world’s oldest independent air force – had heroically defended British skies, participated in the bombing of strategic targets in Germany and supplied tactical support for the British army deployed around the world. And as Britain moved toward modernising and evolving its air force with the introduction of newer technology like jet engines, it sought to create the ultimate military navigator’s timepiece.
In the mid-1940s (1946/47) the British Ministry of Defence sent out a tender for the creation of a watch for its navigators. The requirements of the watch were as follows: a black iron dial marked with full Arabic numerals from 1-12, “luminised” at the four cardinal indices; a 12-ligne movement capable of -4/ +4 accuracy with a hacking function; water-resistant to 20 feet; a Faraday anti-magnetic cage, hence the iron dial; finally, its crystal had to be retained by a screw to prevent detachment during decompression. Watch brands IWC and Jaeger-LeCoultre both answered the call, though eventually JLC would be dropped as a supplier because the brand did not incorporate a shock absorption system into its movement.
The result was IWC’s Mark 11, manufactured in 1948 and issued to various branches of the RAF, as well as the Royal Australian, the Royal New Zealand and the South African air forces. The movement allowing IWC to fly through the most rigorous testing was the Calibre 89, designed – like many of the brand’s most famous calibres – by IWC’s brilliant technical director Albert Pellaton, and featured a full-bridge manual-wind movement for greater ease of service. It had a large balance wheel fitted with an Incabloc shock absorption system, oscillated at 18,000 vph, and featured a hairspring with Breguet overcoil to aid in more concentric breathing. All watches had to be regulated at the Greenwich Observatory and had to be retested there every year.
In 1952, the dial was endowed with its signature diamond-shaped index at 12 o’clock, the only non-Arabic marker on the dial. IWC supplied the RAF with the Mark 11 from 1948 all the way to 1981. And was the sole supplier from the early-1960s onward. It is one of the most legendary timepieces in military history and, for some time, an object of my obsession. In 1994, IWC subsequently issued a civilian version of the Mark 11 called the Mark XII with an automatic movement and a date wheel, and last year it paid a highly successful homage to the original watch with the 40mm Pilot’s Watch Mark XVIII Edition “Tribute to Mark 11”.
On the Mark
But I longed for something that captured more of the original spirit of the Mark 11, and the object of my fixation began to take shape in my subconscious. Plucking up my resolve, last SIHH I approached Christoph Grainger-Herr, IWC’s dynamic leader and the only man in the Swiss watchmaking industry to be the architect of the manufacture where he is CEO. A man with his finger very much on the pulse of the modern watch industry, Grainger-Herr is well-suited to IWC, the very first Richemont Group brand to embrace e-commerce, and to go where no others would at the critical moment consumers were changing the way they engage with luxury watches.
Grainger-Herr explains: “At the end we have one global demand for our products and one global supply for our products and our job is to make each experience for the customer the best possible. I want our clients to be able to interact with us and buy from us any way and any time they like and that is the overarching principle. I will not dictate to my customers how they should experience and purchase our watches. Anyway, we know it takes multiple touch points – up to 13 or 14 – before they decide to buy a watch. It is not so simple as people experiencing a brand online and then instantly clicking and buying the watch. It’s not like fashion, people don’t order eight watches with the expectation to return seven. And whether the final decision to purchase happens after a four-hour dialogue at a multi-brand retailer or sat on a plane with your mobile phone, I don’t mind. It is the clients that will decide that. And all these channels are very complementary.”
Appreciating Grainger-Herr’s dynamism, I pitched the idea of The Rake edition of a Mark 11. Almost immediately we decided that it should be faithful to the original watch at 36mm and have no date, allowing all 11 Arabic indexes and contrasting triangle at 12 o’clock to be fully displayed for optimum visibility. Importantly, it shouldn’t be positioned as a military watch. Basically, my feeling was that if you want a true military watch you could purchase a vintage Dirty Dozen IWC watch. Indeed, stunning Calibre 89 equipped Mark 11 watches are readily available and to me represent some of the very best value in the vintage market, thanks to their incredible pedigree, handsome functional looks, and their movements that have all passed testing at Greenwich Observatory. What I think will be interesting is when IWC launches its factory-certified vintage and pre-owned programme, where these horological treasures will be respectfully refurbished to assure their performance before being placed with consumers.
Grainger-Herr agreed that we should first construct the universe that this watch would be born into. And for that we both very much liked the story of the Gentleman Aviator, especially because the very first IWC Pilot’s watch was created in 1936 by brand owner Ernst Jakob Homberger for his sons, who had already developed a penchant for flying. The brothers Rudolph, Alex and Hans were consummate renaissance men and gentlemen athletes. All three brothers competed in the 1935 European Rowing Championship in Berlin in a boat of eight, winning a silver medal for Switzerland. They also represented their country at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, also in a boat of eight. In the coxless fours, Hans and Alexander won gold medals at the European championships, as well as a silver and a bronze medal at the 1936 Olympics. Hans eventually became MD of IWC in 1955, taking over from his father.
Beyond their dashing dominion on the water, all three brothers were passionate about flying with Rudolph proving so fine a pilot that he became a member of the Swiss Air Force during the Second World War. Together Grainger-Herr and I began to think of the modern-day equivalent of Rudolph and his brothers – men who represented their nations in the most gentlemanly of sports and who took to the skies to find inspiration and freedom. Men whose lives were characterised by extraordinary style and who would think nothing of getting into a plane to fly to a black-tie soirée on a country estate. Men whose lives were a transcendent mixture of elegance, romance and adventure. The gentlemen aviators inspired by men like Howard Hughes and Charles Lindbergh. It became clear to us that the watch needed to be launched in tandem with a curated selection of exclusive “Gentlemen Aviators”-themed clothing.
Scotland-based Aero Leather Clothing is one of the best makers of historically accurate military flight jackets. This particular model made specifically for The Rake’s collaboration with IWC is a Battle of Britain jacket. As leather became short of supply in 1940, the RAF redesigned their B-3 style jacket to use smaller panels. This jacket features russet sheepskin that has been tanned and graded then cut and constructed using precise period-correct panel work, finally being topped off with a honey fleece collar.
The A-1 was the very first military flight jacket and dates back to 1926 when it was introduced as the summer flying jacket of the US Army Air Corps before being standardised for use in 1927. In 1935, Valstar took the A-1 into Gentlemen Aviators’ territory with its civilian version known as the Valstarino. However, not all A-1s are created equal and this particular model crafted for IWC’s collaboration with The Rake is made from deerskin that is so decadently soft you feel as if you’ve regressed into the world’s best appointed and most comfortable womb.
Drakes is dedicated to fabricating the very finest clothing and accessories to suit the modern gentlemen’s wardrobe in one of the very last existing clothing factories in London. The Tiger Moth pocket squares feature the De Havilland DH.83 a 1930s biplane that was used extensively by the RAF. Interestingly, Hans Homberger’s pilot’s log book records that he flew a De Havilland DH.60 Moth – the forerunner of the Tiger Moth – in England in 1933/1934. These pocket squares are made from cotton, modal and cashmere and feature hand-rolled shoestring edges. The Drake’s silk madder Propeller themed ties feature a repeat using the wooden propeller of the Tiger Moth.
Til Reiter, owner of Ludwig Reiter, Vienna’s most renowned shoe maker, says of these brown water-resistant leather and olive suede boots: “The leather on this model is so water resistant that I wear shoes made from this heavily oiled hide all through Venice during the floods in winter and my feet remain dry and warm.” These stunning boots derived from mountaineering and military tradition feature non-slip heavily threaded soles, a fleece lining and suede upper for added comfort and, despite their Goodyear construction, are extremely light, making them the perfect winter city or après-ski footwear.
Edward Sexton is one of the most iconic names in British tailoring. A founding partner of Nutters of Savile Row, amongst the many mythical garments he’s created are the matching cream tuxedos worn by Mick and Bianca Jagger for their wedding. Here Sexton takes inspiration from post-Second World War 1940s tailoring, characterised by his signature wide lapels and double-breasted button configuration – because of cloth rationing during the War, neither of these would have been possible. The material of the stunning double-breasted jacket is cream flannel made by Fox Brothers mills and inspired by the sporting elan of the Homberger brothers. This jacket is complemented by camel Hollywood Top Trousers also in Fox Brothers flannel.
With the garments populating the universe of the Gentlemen Aviators, Grainger-Herr and I immediately thought of a military khaki-green dial, which we decided to combine with a 36mm bronze case to add a healthy dose of visual richness to the watch. The dial of the watch is similar to the brand’s tribute to Mark 11 but with no date and scaled down to a smaller size. Rose-gold hands were added to bring an extra aesthetic flair. Says Grainger-Herr: “I’m really pleased with the end result – the watch is absolutely stunning.”
In January of 2019, IWC will unveil a new collection of Spitfire watches that reflect the Gentlemen Aviators theme that resulted in the IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic 36 Special Edition for The Rake & Revolution. Amusingly one of the greatest discussions surrounding the watch was related to its strap. We decided we would like to use a textile NATO strap replete with matching bronze keeper rings, but we still thought something was missing.
A stroke of inspiration brought an additional sartorial touch to the watch. In December of 1786, the Spanish frigate, Metta Catharina, carrying leather hides from the Russian port of Saint Petersburg, was bound for the Mediterranean when it was caught up in a terrible storm. It was forced to seek refuge in Plymouth Sound but eventually broke free and sank along with its cargo. Two hundred years later, divers found the sea bell to the ship before discovering bundles of hides preserved for two centuries in the black mud of the sea bed. After gaining permission from Prince Charles, whose territorial property encompasses the area where the leather was found, British shoemaker George Cleverley began using these recovered hides to make bespoke shoes.
George Glasgow Junior, the current CEO of George Cleverley, says: “It’s a leather we’ve become known for, though it is getting increasingly rare. These reindeer hides were soaked in willow bark and curried with birch oil and so, if you carefully bring them back to life, they create shoes with a really extraordinary character.”
Though Cleverley has fabricated some watch straps in the past, they have never tried their hand at a military style NATO strap, but they agreed to try. Glasgow says: “We worked extensively with IWC’s strap makers to arrive at precisely the right thickness for the leather. The unique configuration of the NATO means that the extra-long tongue needs to fold back through the keeper loops and we had a challenge making sure it was pliable enough to do this but not so thin that it would break.” Of the collaboration, Glasgow adds: “We’ve had a 10-year relationship with The Rake and consider the title and the people behind the magazine some of our best friends, so we were delighted to participate in this watch and craft an exclusive 150 NATO straps using our 230-year-old Russian reindeer hide.”
The IWC Pilot’s Watch Automatic 36 Special Edition for The Rake & Revolution is in summary a 36mm case model – in keeping with the Mark 11’s original size – rendered with a bronze case, green dial featuring no date and incorporating the traditional index hands to place it truly in alignment with its military predecessor. There is the added touch of a NATO-style strap crafted from 230-year-old reindeer hide and made by one of England’s most legendary shoemakers to inject a flourish of artisanal elegance. The watch will be made in a small series of 150 pieces and will be available online at mrporter.com, as well as at therake.com and revolution.watch. It will also sit alongside a complementary array of Gentlemen Aviators-themed clothing exclusively at Revolution.Watch and TheRake.com.